Sometimes I have moments of clarity on the job, and sometimes I have moments of clairvoyance. I see myself as a patient with a serious illness. In my case, it will probably be my kidneys, or Parkinson’s. I can look at friends and coworkers and see what will probably put them in the hospital. I wonder how we will act when that day comes. Will I be graceful?
I can also see into the past! It happens after I read a patient’s chart at a hospital, one with a great report by the doctor that includes things like family and social history, and a detailed history of not just the current problem, but of the entire medical history. Then I talk to the patient, ask sociable questions. When I have all these luxuries on a call I can see the healthy person my patient once was.
And once again, it gets me thinking: what about my family and friends? What about me? The fact is, we all get sick or injured. We all die. What’s coming down the road?
More importantly, HOW will we handle it when it does? Will we moan and groan and complain? Will we refuse the help and care we need and deserve? Will we become clingy and fearful, or withdraw into depression?
My most inspiring patients are the ones who may experiment with any of the above, but quickly realize that facing facts honestly and choosing to be cheerful are the best ways to confront major illness and at least enjoy your given time. Cheerfulness is not a denial of the truth, or an absence of sadness or disappointment; it is a chosen reaction to life. It is not inherent, we must work at it, and some days we may be more successful than others. But these patients can openly talk about their condition, answer most questions about it, and still laugh and talk and ask an EMT they’ve known for 5 minutes about her life and listen to the answer.
I might wind up on dialysis, or with chronic pneumonia on oxygen, or with an amputated leg, but here and now I pledge to be patient with myself and my caregivers, determined about recovery and living life, and cheerful in my allotted time on this planet!